Obama is named gun ‘salesman of the year’

Industry cites uncertainty over policy

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The Obama years have proved to be a boon to the nation’s gun industry, which has posted strong gains in jobs, sales, economic impact and taxes paid in the teeth of an economic downturn.

The economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry - a figure that includes jobs, taxes and sales - hit $31 billion in 2011, up from $19 billion in 2008, according to a survey released Thursday by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Background check requests for firearms purchases set records in 2010 and 2011, according to FBI data.

Jobs in the firearms business jumped 30 percent from 2008 to 2011, when the industry employed 98,750. The industry paid $2.5 billion in federal taxes in 2011, up 66 percent in three years.

Some in the industry attribute the jump in sales in no small part to fears - fed in part by leading gun lobbies - that the Obama administration will tighten gun control laws if the president wins re-election.

“There’s a concern that in the second term the Obama administration would lead an attempt to restrict gun ownership,” said NSSF Senior Vice President Lawrence G. Keane.

That concern, known in the industry as “the Obama factor,” has led many gun owners to purchase now in hopes of avoiding more restrictions and regulations later.

“Some people jokingly refer to [President Obama] as the salesman of the year for the industry,” Mr. Keane said.

Carl Roy of the Maryland Small Arms Range Inc. in Upper Marlboro said political rhetoric during election campaigns renews attention on the industry.

Sales “usually spike every time there’s an election,” he said. “There was a dramatic increase right after the last presidential election. A lot of that was based upon the fear that the Obama administration was going to come in and try to create drastic gun regulations. It’s coming up again.”

Whatever the reason, the NSSF notes that this industry expansion has occurred during one of the country’s worst recessions since the Great Depression. Membership in the group has doubled to more than 7,000 in the past five years.

“It’s fair to say, and the numbers demonstrate it, that our industry in a very poor economy is doing very well and is helping to lead the economic recovery,” Mr. Keane said.

But critics of the gun industry say the growth is not good for the country.

During a Super Bowl commercial that ran in local markets, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino promoted gun control, saying, “We don’t agree on much, but we both support the Second Amendment and believe America must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

The influential National Rifle Association has been particularly vocal in warning of what it sees as the threat to gun owners if Mr. Obama wins a second term.

NRA spokeswoman Stephanie Samford said, “Obama is a serious threat to the Second Amendment. He has a history of being anti-gun. With a second term, there is a lot he could do to infringe on our rights to keep and bear arms.”

But Mr. Keane, Mr. Roy and Ms. Samford all stopped short of attributing the entire surge in the U.S. firearms industry to concerns about who is in the White House.

Mr. Keane said more customers are first-time buyers and women.

“You cannot attribute all the increase simply to the Obama factor,” he said. “It’s a factor, it’s an important factor, but it’s not the only reason.”

Mr. Keane said first-time buyers represent 25 percent of customers.

During the past 10 years, the number of women buying guns has risen 46 percent for hunting purposes and 36 percent for target shooting, he said.

“We have seen a rise in women getting into gun ownership with regards to personal protection and shooting sports,” Ms. Samford said.

Although no single indicator tracks the number of firearms sold in the country, the FBI reported that a record 14.4 million criminal background checks were requested for gun purchases in 2010, and that preliminary numbers project the figure to be above 16 million for 2011.

According to NSSF numbers, requests for gun-related background checks for March reached nearly 1.2 million, up 20 percent from March 2011 and the 22nd straight monthly increase.

FBI officials say that just over 1 percent of such background checks result in denials, and not every background check results in a final gun purchase. But the numbers are widely considered proxies for gun sales trends generally.

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